Coping with anniversaries - Bereavement support

'Coping with anniversaries' written in white over a picture taken by David of the sunrise over Kielder water.

This photo was taken at 7:05 am on a Sunday while I was volunteering at Kielder for the running weekend.  The grey bar across the middle is actually a fog bank drifting over Kielder water and there is one lone duck swimming from the shore to the jetty. – David

Anniversaries can mean something different to everyone, it can be the birthday of a loved one, a wedding anniversary, or the anniversary of a diagnosis or of their passing. These significant dates can be difficult to cope with for many reasons. You may want to spend the day thinking about the person who has passed to celebrate their life or mark their passing in some way. You may find you would prefer not to mark the day at all, and instead choose to treat the day as any other. There is no right or wrong way to feel or react when an anniversary comes around, and whether you choose to mark the day or not, will be different for everyone. Making sure you are doing what you feel is right for you and what you feel comfortable with is the most important thing, even if you feel it might not be the ‘traditional’ way of marking an anniversary.

Some people may find it useful to talk through their feelings about an upcoming anniversary with family and friends, or with other members of the Community. However you feel about anniversaries, remember to be kind to yourself and know that there is support out there for you.

We know that anniversaries can bring up a lot of difficult feelings for anyone who has lost a loved one, so we wanted to invite one of our Community Champions, David (known on the Community as DaveyBo), to talk about their experience of coping with anniversaries. In today’s blog David talks about how he chose to mark the passing of his parents in a way that felt right for him. David has been a Community Champion for over 4 years and provides amazing support to members in the Bereaved family and friends’ and ‘Bereaved spouses and partners’ groups. We are grateful to have him here today to talk about this important subject.

Some delays can occur in the grieving process and will only be triggered when the first “first” comes along.  When my mum passed, we had the funeral on a Thursday.  She had spent 95+% of her last three years in hospital having treatment for kidney failure.  On the Saturday after the funeral in the early afternoon my father and I were halfway along the main road when we suddenly realised there was nobody at the hospital to visit.  We had to hold ourselves together, turn off the main road so that we could turn around and head home.  We hardly spoke and it was just the sheer shock of realisation that hit hard.

‘We hardly spoke and it was just the sheer shock of realisation that his hard.’

Every year on our way to visit my aunt we would call in a graveyard and my mum would put flowers at her mums’ grave.  When my mum passed we sprinkled her ashes on the same grave and went up every year on the anniversary to put flowers on.  Neither my father or I had any bereavement support – we did not ask for any and it was never offered through GP services (not sure how much support was available in 1983).  When I became a full-time carer for my dad I took him to the graveyard and I was able to take the car all the way to the far end to make it easier to get to the grave.  After my dad passed in 2007 I sprinkled his ashes in the same place.  Then every year I would go up in July (mum) and October (dad) without fail and put flowers on the grave.  This become a must happen event and if I had to make an appointment for anything I would always make it for a different day so that I could always make a visit.  I eventually forced myself to stop going because it was becoming a complete obsession and I had to move on. 

‘This become a must happen event…I eventually forced myself to stop going because it was becoming a complete obsession and I had to move on.’

After losing my dad I found the first year hard but manageable.  A few years later I got to the point where I was constantly missing him, crying lots, unable to do many everyday things due to lack of interest.  After struggling for some months, I went to my GP who put me in contact with my local Macmillan team.  They arranged a home visit to discuss my situation then matched me up with a suitable volunteer who would visit anywhere from weekly to monthly and be a listening ear. 

‘After struggling for some months, I went to my GP who put me in contact with my local Macmillan team.’

He would suggest but not advise ways of dealing with my feelings and things I could do to move on.  After this I wanted to repay the team so asked to join as a volunteer and since then have gone on to do many different duties for my local team, online community support, reviewing Macmillan books (including bereavement) and helping a local group organised by Steve Cram who has running events around the region including Kielder. 

‘I do still have moments that are difficult, but I’ve learned how to deal with these emotions.  So, the pain is still there but the outward signs are gone.’

I do still have moments that are difficult but I’ve learned how to deal with these emotions.  So, the pain is still there but the outward signs are gone.  This does mean that time is a healer – it does not take the pain away but you gradually learn how to deal with the pain of loss much easier to deal with.  Strangely I can watch some television my dad liked but not others and also visit some places but not others.  Not sure why this is but for those I don’t visit I still have many memories.  I have tried writing everything down about my childhood, as much of the stories my mum and dad told me of their childhoods and war experiences, about my caring for my dad and everything after.  I did have the hope of maybe getting this published but don’t think it will ever happen. However, it was a great way to get my emotions out.

‘I have tried writing everything down about my childhood, as much of the stories my mum and dad told me of their childhoods and war experiences, about my caring for my dad and everything after.’ 

The first year after any bereavement is always the hardest because there are so many anniversaries which act as trigger points to remind you of the loss of a loved one.  Sometimes some of these can occur together to make it doubly difficult such as a birthday on or near Christmas.

The dread leading up to the anniversary can also be very painful as the realisation keeps growing that the loved one will not be here to celebrate with you.  These are also more painful because the anniversaries are usually happy occasions, often involving many family members including those who may have travelled very long distances to be there.  The memories will always be there and often captured on video footage but this does not replace the actual feelings you had at the time.  When these days come along people feel a great amount of sadness without their loved one but also a great amount of happiness from all the memories about the loved one.

‘When these days come along people feel a great amount of sadness without their loved one but also a great amount of happiness from all the memories about the loved one.’

Everyone grieves in their own way and at their own pace and there is no right or wrong way or time.  This proves difficult in a family situation if some seem to be over it quicker but it maybe that they keep their emotions hidden – this causes more pain and hurt for individuals and between family members on anniversaries as some may think others don’t care or are over reacting to the situation.  Some people will maybe just look at a photo and say happy birthday whilst others will go to the extreme of buying cards, flowers, cakes and visiting, if possible, the gravesite.  If this helps in the short term for some people then that is what they need to do but they have to make sure it does not become an obsession which can lead to unresolved grief which usually requires specialist help to resolve.

As well as theses main firsts there are many others which will trigger stronger or lesser feelings of grief.  These include the first walk alone, the first visit to a sports event or the first holiday especially if it is to a favourite location.  These are usually the forgotten firsts and some of them may happen automatically with no symptoms of grief at all such as the visit to the supermarket especially if you often went alone on some occasions.

‘Everyone grieves in their own way and at their own pace and there is no right or wrong way or time.’

We want to thank David for his words and for sharing his experience today. Shared experience can be very beneficial when you are coping with loss, and it’s important to know that you are not alone. The Community is here 24/7 as a source of peer support, and however you might be feeling, our members are here for you in our Bereaved family and friends’ and Bereaved spouses and partners’ groups.  

Here on the team we know just how beneficial peer support can be, so we wanted to end today’s blog by sharing some quotes from our Community cancer forum members about how they coped with anniversaries.

‘The firsts will never be easy…My advice would be to just do whatever you feel on those days. Don't force yourself into doing things just because that's what you usually do for an occasion. If you want to just have a quiet day then do, there's no pressure. I'm told it gets easier with time, for me it's only been 2 months so I can't comment but I do take comfort in knowing that my dad would want me to still be enjoying the good times.’- Fuschia29

‘I lost my dad almost 3 years ago. I’m still having plenty of firsts nearly 3 years later. I heard my dad's favourite song last year when I was out shopping with my fiancé and more recently every now and again I can smell cigarette smoke (my dad was a smoker) so that I know that he's nearby.’ – Nanasgirl1982

That's good advice about doing what I want to do on the 'special' days. I am a people pleaser so would probably worry about what others want me to do rather than thinking about what I want. I'm definitely going to remember this and not put any pressure on myself.

I do get on with my day and my new life within the confines of lockdown. I talk to people when walking the dogs and keep in touch with family and friends via text etc. Do I miss him. God yes. But it will be spring soon and we go on. – Heartbroken25

Yesterday was our anniversary… I have to say even though there was a lot of tears it was a nice day I turned off my phone, spent longer out walking the dog then spent the rest of the day listening to his records and looking though photos. I am proud of myself that I have got through 3 big days so far, the day he went to be cremated, the first Christmas without him and now our anniversary.  I have started putting messages on my calendar to let me know that I can get through all of these tough day's and can now remember him my own way making it a special day to focus on the good times we had not the bad.’Kate 41

‘When it was our first Anniversary, I just got two cards out the draw, the last one he gave me and the one I gave him…I will always remember that because I do not think our Anniversary Day would ever be the same, we had wonderful years together priceless, so remember the good times, I know we still have our down days, but now the good out way the bad.’ – ellie 73

‘I think that looking at photos is a good idea- I get lots of comfort from the many photos, even if I shed tears.’ - Kenickiesmum

‘I found that the days passed better than I had expected.  Friends remembered some of the days too and yes, they became days to remember the good times.’ – Poppy51

‘We can't make time stand still even though we wish we could, we just have to hold our heads up and be proud of ourselves and know we did our best and we can and have got through some of the worst days we ever thought possible’ - BootsyD

If you need support after reading this blog, do remember our Support Line teams are here for you at this time – even if all you need is a listening ear. Our lines are open 7 days a week between 8am-8pm. You can call 0808 808 00 00 or live chat with our teams via out live webchat facility during these hours.

  • You have had a great loss and I am sorry for you. She might wish you to heal; I will never forget my husband and our life together but I think he will want me to use the best of the time I have left and make a legacy of the life we had together. My last words to him before he died was that he had been my soulmate, that will always be true. I would not wish him back with the ill health he had, but I wish that just once, I could hear his car pull up and come in to say hello.

  • I need help please. My dad passed Dec 2019 just before all this covid started I got to say goodbye to my dad but I haven't had the chance to grieve, my dad was amazing, he was my world. My dad got diagnosed with lung cancer one month then the next had problems walking.... it had progressed to his brain. I was lucky with steroid treatment I did get a couple of more weeks with my dad

  • Hi Melons

    I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your dad.  You can take great comfort from being there with him to say goodbye and this would also have given him great comfort and made his passing more peaceful.  You need to find time to grieve properly - talk to your dad when ever and wherever and he will always try to find a way to show he is listening.  Open yourself to any signs that he is around such as unexpected white feathers or radio / tv retuning.  Think how he would want you to feel - he would not want you to become ill from not grieving.  We all do this at a different speed and in different ways so don't worry about how long or how.  Visit one of your dads favourite places and talk to him there, ask him to show you a sign to comfort you.  Create a memory book about your dad with lots of stories from your childhood, his childhood, from relatives and friends of your dad.  Include lots of photos as well.  This is a great way to express your emotions and you don't have to share the book with anyone if you don't want to.

    If you need to talk to someone, please contact the support line free on 0808 808 0000 which is open daily 8 am – 8 pm daily for a free confidential chat.  You can use this link your area to find support near where you live.  This could be 1-2-1 or group and is also free and confidential. 

    Also, post as much as you want whenever you want here and someone will always respond to you.

    There is some useful information on coping with grief and information on the symptoms of grief.

    This link allows you to download the Macmillan book Coping with Bereavement which is full of useful information and has support contact details at the back.  This booklet about bereavement is free and can be downloaded as PDF or as an ebook.

    This link takes you to a leaflet called In Memory which is very useful.

    Lastly, here are some words which I hope will bring you some comfort -

    Death is nothing at all.

    I have only slipped away into the next room.

    I am I and you are you.

    Whatever we were to each other, that we still are.

    Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way you always used.

    Put no difference into your tone, wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

    Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.

    Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

    Let my name be ever the household word that it always was, let it be spoken without effect, without the shadow of a ghost in it.

    Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was; there is unbroken continuity.

    Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

    I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around

    the corner .......

    All is well.

    Hope this helps and sending you a big hug.